Crime Beat

New Mexico Takes ‘Broken Windows’ Approach to Cut Crime

The New Mexico Attorney General, working with the City of Albuquerque and local big box stores, has announced a new public safety initiative to combat petty theft in an effort to stop the rise of violent crime.

At a press conference Tuesday, officials outlined several tools being used to combat shoplifting, including retailers sharing video footage with police, live feeds of parking lot license plate readers, increased prosecution efforts, and calling on help from the state legislature to pass harsher laws for shoplifting offenders.

As Albuquerque follows a national trend of increased violent crime, people are increasingly concerned about the Duke City’s march toward a record homicide rate in 2021

According New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, petty theft isn’t merely an economic scourge but an organized crime effort that serves as a funding mechanism for more dangerous crimes.

“This is about a very profitable industry that is now funneling and fueling other criminal activity like human trafficking and gang activity. The most violent criminals in the country now understand that this can be a very profitable business to invest in other criminal activity in the state of New Mexico.” 

— New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas

Balderas stated that his office will put its best best prosecutors on these cases “to target the worst of the worst” in an effort to increase prosecution and conviction rates. To do that, he’s asking the New Mexico Legislature for help in passing an Organized Criminal Retail Act.

“The legislature I don’t believe has done a great job of vetting and giving law enforcement the tools that they need.”

Focusing law enforcement efforts on petty crimes to larger crimes isn’t a new concept. New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani oversaw a heralded (if arguably hyped) drop in crime in the 1990s using a concept known as the broken windows theory of policing

While stricter prison sentences and a crackdown on mobs likely contributed to the drop in crime, few venture to say that broken window policing didn’t help.

Just as murder and shoplifting are as vastly different today as murder and graffiti were in the 1990s, they are nonetheless “part of the same continuum.”

“(I)f a climate of disorder and lack of mutual respect is allowed to take root, incidence of other, more serious antisocial behavior will increase. There’s a continuum of disorder. Obviously, murder and graffiti are two vastly different crimes. But they are part of the same continuum, and a climate that tolerates one is more likely to tolerate the other. A city in which an increasing number of people respect and are willing to accommodate the rights of others is a city that’s moving in a progressive direction.” 

— Rudolph W. Giuliani, February 24, 1998

Petty theft is often viewed as a victimless crime. BLM organizer Ariel Atkins famously dismissed the billions in dollars in damages caused during the summer of 2020’s Racial Reckoning because “businesses have insurance.” 

“I don’t care if someone decides to loot a Gucci or a Macy’s or a Nike store, because that makes sure that person eats. …That is reparations. Anything they wanted to take, they can take it because these businesses have insurance.”

In fact, the cost of petty crime is neither petty nor victimless, and while its economic effects are staggering — resulting in higher prices for commodities, millions in lost tax revenue, stores closures, job losses, and the incalculable costs to police departments and judicial systems — the larger issue of stolen property is the more nefarious criminal activities it funds.

While New Mexico didn’t suffer the brunt of looting and riots that cities like Minneapolis and Chicago did, Mayor Tim Keller said Tuesday that there is a post-pandemic “brazenness” of petty theft and violence that has hit Albuquerque. 

“The City of Albuquerque (gets) so many complaints about, ‘I was standing in a CVS, I was standing at Walgreens, I was standing at Walmart, and somebody ran in and may or may not have had a weapon, and then they came out and nobody did anything, and they just got away…

“This is not about petty shoplifting. This is part of an often orchestrated effort but also unfortunately a theory on the street that just says that ‘Okay, if we need some extra cash for any given reason for our particular group of individuals who are involved in multiple types of criminal activity, we’ll just go steal some stuff.

And that’s what this is about catching.”

—Mayor Tim Keller

“We have to stop looking at it as property crimes and violent crimes,” Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said. “A lot of our property crimes offenders are just short of becoming violent criminals because they are not in the process of being apprehended.”

While it’s impossible to ignore the timing of this initiative — Mayor Keller is up for re-election in November, and he’s facing off against a popular sheriff in Manny Gonzales at a time when crime is skyrocketing — politics shouldn’t matter when community safety is on the line. 

Opening up communication to crack down on criminal activity is long overdue, but the community should applaud the efforts. 

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